May 9: The Day we Pwned the Germans


World War II is kind of a Big Deal for Russians. As much as the Americans helped, we like to say that “Russia threw bodies at Hitler,” and that’s how we won.  By just burying him in bodies.   Also, we probably started making German soldiers drink moonshine vodka (that would be vodka made out of cleaning alcohols.)  That would be the other point of victory.

We celebrate it on May 9, which is Victory Day and a HUGE deal in Russia.   The way we remember it best is with the lentochka Svetova Georgiya (St. George ribbon), which commemorates the enormous sacrifices that ordinary Russians made to win against the Nazis.

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Within my own family, these stories aren’t too hard to find.  Many, many Russians on my dad’s side were conscripted to serve.  Many never came back.  One did.  My great-aunt Masha (Maria.)  When I last saw her, she was about 85 years old.  She still walks and she walks with a chest full of medals given to her by the Soviet government for bravery.  She served on the front, in the Baltic countries, as a radio transmitter, and as a woman.  I can’t say how proud this makes me of my family.

While my Russian side of the family was serving, my Russian Jewish side of the family, my mom’s side was busy serving AND escaping the Nazi tidal wave.  My grandpa’s father and two brothers went to serve.  Two were killed and one came back severely injured, leaving my great-grandma with my grandpa and his sisters.  They began the long evacuation from Belarussia, to Uzbekistan because living in the Asian republics was safter.  Those who didn’t were murdered by Nazis that had advanced.

Life was tough in Uzbekistan, too.  My grandpa told me a story that I will never forget.  I was about eight years old, and he was putting me to bed because my parents were out for some reason.  “Tell me a story,” I begged him.

“There was a little boy who lived in Uzbekistan.  He evacuated there with his mother, and times were hard.  There wasn’t a lot of food; sometimes, they got some from working, some from potatoes, other times from scavaging.  One night when he was awake from hunger, he heard a noise by the side of his mattress on the floor.  He realized that it was a mouse, who was just as hungry as he was.  So he started saving his food and feeding it to the mouse so the mouse could feel better.”

“Stop,” I begged my grandpa, crying.  I couldn’t handle the story anymore.

“It’s just a story!  It’s fine,” he said.

But I couldn’t calm down and spent the rest of the night crying, picturing the little boy giving the mouse food.

I never realized whether this was a true story or not.  Maybe not.  My grandpa likes to make stuff up a lot, one of my favorite traits about him.  But today, I realize that the story could have come out of something that he faced when he was in evacuation.

So, while I don’t always wear the lentochka, I always remember.